It would've been easy for Matt Irwin to give up. He's glad he didn't.
The Nashville Predators defenseman has been named the team's nominee for the 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association (PHWA). The trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Originally signed to a one-year deal on July 1, 2016, by the Predators, Irwin, who had spent the previous season with the Boston Bruins organization, didn't make Nashville's Opening Night roster out of training camp. Irwin has admitted he wasn't happy with his play in camp, and knew he had plenty more to give.
Due to injuries on the blue line early in the season, Irwin got that second chance, receiving the call to Nashville late in October - and he never looked back.
Since then, Irwin has tallied three goals and 14 points in 66 games, but more importantly, has played essentially every position on the Preds blue line over the course of the season, providing a sense of stability no matter who he's skated with.
Those efforts earned him a new one-year deal on Jan. 6 to carry him through the 2017-18 season, a show of confidence from the entire organization to what Irwin can provide.
"I knew I could play in this League at this level, and I was comfortable coming in," Irwin said. "Once I got a grasp on the systems, it's been awesome ever since."
The nomination is a nod to Irwin's ability to re-establish himself as an NHL defenseman after doing so in San Jose to begin his career, only to lose that opportunity last season. Now, Irwin appreciates every day in the League that much more.
"I think maybe you take your first 150 games or so a little bit for granted, and it's so true that once you're up here, it's a grind and it's a battle to stay up here," Irwin said. "You have to be sharp every year and every game. It was an eye-opener and a learning experience [to go back to the AHL]. But you take those positives and those learning experiences from being sent down and spending the year back in the minors to looking to get that opportunity again. I'm just so thankful for that."
The three finalists for the Masterton Trophy will be announced at a later date. The award will be presented at the 2017 NHL Awards in late June.